A Toy Boat on the Serpentine
orchestra: 2+picc,2,2,2; 4,2,2,1; timp+2perc; harp; strings
Commissioned by Philadelphia Sinfonia Youth Orchestra in honor of Carol Brown
Premiere Feb. 23, 2020, Philadelphia
Sinfonia commissioned A Toy Boat on the Serpentine in honor of my mother, Carol Brown, who served as President of Sinfonia’s board for many years. I knew I wanted to involve her in the process of composing the piece, and asked her to send me a list of musical pieces and moments within them that she finds particularly compelling. I analyzed the music on her list and found several musical ideas her examples had in common. These ideas, along with a few direct quotations culled from pieces on her list, became my guideposts while composing. The title is a quotation from the novel Orlando by Virginia Woolf, whose books my mother and I have discussed at length. It is taken from a moment in which Orlando, the title character, realizes (as a toy boat bobbing on a river sends her into ecstatic reflection) that her ability to notice and find meaning in the small details of daily life legitimizes her as an artist more than any external recognition of her work could. As I worked on this piece, I felt that its waves of motion and emotion matched this scene—which was apt, because finding meaning in the details of daily life is something at which my mother, like Orlando, excels.